Marketing Matters: How's Your Phone Face?

by Steve Cony

You’ve placed your advertising, mailed your brochures, and done whatever you do to stimulate initial interest in your camp. Now, that long-awaited moment arrives: the phone rings.

The telephone has become such an automatically integrated part of our moment-to-moment lives that we often forget what a powerful tool it can be. Or, conversely, how it can so easily do us in.

Who answers your phone? You must make sure that everyone and everyone who has even the slightest opportunity to answer your phone understands the impact of this call, the very first contact that many prospective and current camp families have with your operation.

A Glowing First Contact

Every time someone makes a first-time call to a camp or other organizations, he cannot help but form an opinion based solely upon what he hears from the other end of the phone. Therefore, you must be prepared to make the “face” of this critical first contact positively glow.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure you identify every staff member who is likely to answer the phone on a regular or even semi-regular basis.
  • Be certain that all of these staffers understand the critical importance of positive telephone contact.
  • Arrange a training session and refresher sessions on effective use of the phone.

Four Important Phases

There are four important phases during a phone call with a prospective family:

The greeting
It is very important for callers to know that everyone at your camp loves being there, and that begins with the person who answers the phone.

The intake
You must learn about the age of the child, the past use of camp by the prospective camper and by other family members, the goals of the family in finding the right camp, and — equally important — how the family found your camp.

The key message
This is your brief and critically important opportunity to introduce what makes your camp unique and thus an excellent candidate for the family to consider seriously. You must make this a simple and memorable statement of value. If you are in a highly competitive situation, your message should differentiate your camp positively from the other camps that the family may be considering.

The next steps
Identify and explain what will happen next. In most cases, the camp will send materials to the family. You should sound enthusiastic about what you will send and give the caller reasons to anticipate the arrival of your package.

One assistant director ends a phone conversation by telling the prospect that a package, containing a brochure and a video, will be sent promptly. He called attention to the brochure by pointing out that he can be found wearing a blue shirt in a group shot on the front cover. (This is an outstanding example of personalizing a call.) Then he speaks about the video, highlighting the fact that the camp had received network media coverage and that a clip from the TV program is on the tape. In short, he sounds as excited about the marketing materials as he does about the camp! How could a family not look forward to the arrival of that camp’s materials after a phone response such as his?

Also, if there is an important time factor, such as early-bird enrollment or a near sold-out session, deliver that message at this time.

Camp Hold Music

Before you even begin speaking to a prospect, do you often need to put the caller on hold? Why not play camp songs, either your own or those from a prerecorded tape? You can purchase a music-on-hold player for about $200 from any local phone system dealer, who can also handle installation.

Don’t Read a Script

Once you begin speaking, anything like a formal script should be avoided; camp personnel should never sound like they are reading something over the phone. However, a brief “bullet point” card placed near the phone can help staffers keep responses organized and help ensure that important points are not forgotten.

Perception Is Reality

Your phone responses say as much about both the spirit and the organization of your camp operation as do your printed materials and video. If the phone voice sounds rushed, it could seem like things at camp are disorganized or — worse — in some kind of panic. If the phone voice sounds distracted, it can seem that the camp is disinterested or impersonal. If the phone voice sounds too young, it could even be perceived that campers are recruited to answer the phone. In any of these situations, you may know that in reality things are just fine. However, in your camp’s interface with the public, the perceptions that are formed are more important than any reality. When it comes to marketing, perception is reality.

The telephone is your front-line opportunity to provide 100 percent positive, camp-oriented responses. What a first-time caller hears when your camp answers the phone is no less important than the appearance of your camp, the cover of your brochure, or the first thirty seconds of your video.

Steve Cony is a marketing consultant who assists children's camps with the development of strategic plans and the execution of marketing materials. Camp directors may contact him at 914-271-8482.

Originally published in the 1999 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.